Freelancers' Questions: Am I breaching Getty’s copyright?

Freelancer’s Question: I’ve been reading that Getty Images has previously issued penalties to people for showing a Getty image on their individual websites without owning the licence for it. I am concerned because my online portfolio of design work stemming from my time at design agencies (some of it as an employee) contains images purchased from Getty. I’ve got permission to use the work from the agency and have clearly stated in my portfolio which briefs were carried out as an employee and which I did independently. But I didn’t personally buy the displayed images; they were bought by the design agencies I worked for. Am I likely to be in breach of copyright laws?

Expert’s Answer: Without seeing the particular terms of the licence with Getty Images, it is unfortunately not possible to answer your question accurately. This is partly because Getty provides a number of different options when purchasing (licensing) images from them. It follows that what use can be made of the images will depend on what the terms say and in particular what rights and restrictions there are.

If, for example, the image has been licensed on an exclusive basis then more than likely that they (the design agency) will have the right to sub-licence the work (which is effectively what they are doing). If not and there is nothing specified in the ‘rights and restrictions’ clause of the agreement, or in an invoice, then it is likely that you will be infringing Getty’s copyright. In short, if the design agency doesn’t have the right to sub-licence the images then they cannot do so.

So check the terms thoroughly, assuming you can get hold of them. The terms will tell you what can and can’t be done. If they are allowed to sub-licence or use as per you questions, then it will be likely that a licence exists between the design agency and you by virtue of them “allowing” your use of the images on your website.


The expert was Ben Evans, a solicitor on the e-commerce team of Southampton-based legal advisory Lawdit.


22nd February 2011

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